Security Specialist, Abolitionist, Anabaptist
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How to Become a Christian

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Apologies for the language here, but the thing I can never understand is how you can call yourself a Christian and act like an asshole. It happens all the time and it just blows my mind. Seriously, I have a whole chapter about this in my book Reviving Old Scratch.

How can you call yourself a Christian and treat other people like trash? How can you claim to follow Jesus yet treat others unkindly, aggressively, rudely, roughly, dismissively, haughtily, intimidatingly, selfishly?

How--How!!!--can you call yourself a Christian and act like an asshole?

Listen, I get all the big debates we have about what's wrong with Christianity, but isn't this the biggest one? Isn't the biggest problem with Christians today this disjoint between confession and lifestyle?

So what's the solution?

I'll tell you mine.

Become passionate about the Fruit of the Spirit.

Love, joy, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Make these virtues the central focus of your Christian practice. Discipline yourself to attend to these virtues from your first waking moment to the time your head hits the pillow at night. Do not, for one minute, let these virtues slip from your mind. Let the pursuit of them become your obsession, the animating agenda of your day.

Hold yourself to these virtues in every interaction, with every person in every situation. With your spouse. With your children. With your co-workers. With everyone online. With everyone in the traffic jam. With everyone standing in the line. With the cashier. With the person sitting next to you.

Pursue these virtues, with passion and discipline. Never take a minute off. Never allow yourself a slip or an excuse. Never let them slip from your consciousness. Right now, right here, with this person, am I being more kind, loving, patient, gentile, joyful, good, faithful and self-controlled?

Disciplined, intentional obsession with the Fruit of the Spirit in every interaction with every person throughout the day.

For me, that's how I'm becoming a Christian.
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Remembering Gene Sharp, a pioneer of people power

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by The Editors

Gene Sharp at his office in East Boston, where he founded the Albert Einstein Institution. (Ruaridh Arrow)

Gene Sharp, who passed away at the age of 90 on Sunday, was not only a key figure in the development of a whole new field of study devoted to helping people realize their own power, he was a key figure in the lives of so many who found inspiration in his work and took it in new directions. It is no exaggeration to say that Waging Nonviolence would not exist were it not for his pioneering research demonstrating the undeniable power and effectiveness of nonviolent struggle. It is also true that his early encouragement — and desire to publish an original piece with WNV, just two years into its existence — gave us a much needed boost of confidence.

Nearly everyone who has taught, researched, written about or engaged in nonviolent struggle owes some debt to Gene Sharp. And since the obituaries don’t have room to share their remembrances and tributes, we have collected some of them here. While the following stories come from only a small sampling of the activists, organizers, scholars and writers whose lives he touched, they give a glimpse of the profound impact that he had on the world.

It’s been a profound privilege of my life to learn from you. The world is a better place because of your path-blazing audacity. Thank you for sharing your genius with the world. Rest in peace, my friend.

– Jamila Raqib is the executive director of Gene Sharp’s Albert Einstein Institution and a Director’s Fellow at MIT Media Lab

I can never forget the day I first met Gene Sharp. I was an Army Senior Fellow at the Center for International Affairs at Harvard University. I saw a notice taped to a window stating there would be a meeting of the Program For Nonviolent Sanctions at 2 p.m. that day. As an Infantry officer with almost 25 years learning the skills of combat and executing those skills with two combat Infantry units, I decided I would drop in just to see what peaceniks and draft dodgers looked like and talked about. Soon, a small man walked to the front of the room and introduced himself. “I am Gene Sharp,” he said. “Strategic nonviolence is about seizing political power or denying it to others.”

After the meeting, I introduced myself to Gene and asked if I could meet with him, since my career was doing what he had talked about — except my career was about waging violence for the same purposes. After a meeting the next day, which lasted three hours, my life was changed regarding those who advocated nonviolent actions, if they knew and followed Gene’s concepts. To be more effective, in my view, Gene Sharp’s approach could be expanded to include strategic and tactical operational planning, propaganda development and distribution and understanding the meaning of Sun Tzu’s “Knowing your enemy and you will know the outcome of a thousand battles.” Gene became my mentor for almost two decades.

I know Gene enjoyed introducing me to his friends and colleagues as “Colonel” Bob Helvey. He showed me a viable alternative to war in pursuing security and other national interests. A society can no longer defend itself against a wannabe tyrant using violence against the modern state. Just maintaining our second amendment rights will not deter an oppressor. Nonviolent struggle is a force more powerful. We traveled together in many countries. The peacenik and the warrior worked well together!

Robert Helvey is a retired U.S. Army Colonel and the author of “On Strategic Nonviolent Conflict: Thinking About the Fundamentals”

All of those in the peace movement, whether they have been imprisoned on charges of civil disobedience or have taken to the peace studies classrooms, owe a large debt to Gene Sharp. Through his many books on nonviolence written over the decades, he has consistently been the idea man that kept us grounded. In the 35 years of my classroom toil, not a semester has passed without reading one or more of Gene Sharp’s essays.

I had a long conversation with Gene Sharp in 2011 when he came to Washington, D.C. to receive the El-Hibri Peace Education Prize. Gene, self-effacing and gracious, was characteristically modest about his long record to champion alternatives to violence.

Colman McCarthy directs the Center For Teaching Peace in Washington, D.C., and is a columnist with the National Catholic Reporter

Although I wasn’t even introduced to Gene Sharp’s work until 2005, I can say without a doubt that he has fundamentally shaped both my professional and personal outlook more than almost any other single person. I find that my own life has been enriched by the way in which I now understand power, and I have been able to pay this forward to thousands of students over the years. It is impossible to imagine that the study of civil resistance and nonviolent strategy would be anywhere near as evolved as it is today without the contributions of Gene Sharp. His work very likely has contributed to the liberation of countless people over the years, and will probably do so into perpetuity. That is quite the gift to humanity.

– Cynthia Boaz is an associate professor in the department of political science at Sonoma State University

I got to interview Gene Sharp when I was at the New Yorker, and his books were hugely useful to me when I was trying to figure out ways to escalate the Keystone pipeline campaign. But my favorite memory of him is from a meeting in an upstairs office in Central Square Cambridge some winter evening in the late 1970s. The Clamshell Alliance was planning for an attempt to take over the Seabrook nuclear power station, and I was a journalist covering the scene. Some of the more zealous activists were worried that the police would spy on them from helicopters so they were planning to use weather balloons to stretch steel cables so the choppers would be afraid to fly nearby. Gene had come by to consult, and I remember him listening to this, and then simply saying: “How is that different from telling them you have an anti-aircraft gun and you’ll shoot them down?” No one had a good answer, and the Seabrook occupation remained steadfastly nonviolent.

– Bill McKibben is an author, educator, environmentalist and founder of

It took a Hindu by the name of Mohandas Gandhi to grasp the power of Thoreau’s Christian-based civil disobedience. And similarly it took a (at the time) young academic by the name of Gene Sharp to unlock the strategic power of nonviolence from India’s most well known activist. Gene was bold enough to run against the prevailing winds. He was detailed enough to back it up. And he was insistent in his revolutionary argument that it is not might — but people’s tacit or explicit agreement with the powers-that-be — that keeps those powers in place. His lessons will echo long beyond his name. And we thank him for it.

Daniel Hunter is a trainer and organizer at Training for Change

It took a little time to convince Gene that doing a documentary was a good idea, but eventually I received an email from him where he said he understood the power of film to convey his message long after he was gone. That became my mission — his work was always going to live on in his books in every corner of the world, but I wanted to create a film where the viewer would feel like Gene was talking directly to them. Shortly afterwards he phoned me up and said, “Honestly, how much have you read!?” I was bit stumped by this question because I’d only completed “From Dictatorship to Democracy” at that point and dipped into the case studies in “The Politics of Nonviolent Action.” I fudged the question and thought I’d gotten away with it, but a week later an enormous box of books arrived at my flat in London with almost everything he’d written in it. He sent a note which read, “I like a well-informed interviewer!” Later I saw that was typical of Gene — he was quite capable of gently upbraiding any potential upstart who didn’t think they needed to study his material in depth. He’d say, “If you want to remove a dictatorship, you can read 900 pages. If you can’t even read 900 pages then you’re not serious!”

I was really privileged to go touring the film around Europe with him. I think we all understood that it would probably be his last foreign trip, and he enjoyed it enormously. He was treated like a rock star wherever we went — huge cinemas full of sometimes 700 people gave him emotional standing ovations. I remember looking out from the stage on one occasion to see the official photographer at the event had to stop taking photos to wipe tears out of her eyes. He was kind to everyone who wanted to meet him, caring and generous with his time, but there was an obvious steely and dogmatic core of his personality which kept him going through his toughest moments. His story of dogged determination to improve the world despite operating against incredible odds inspired so many people, but he was relentlessly modest about his contribution. Had it not been for the dictators who denounced him, I would never have known his name.

Ruaridh Arrow is the director of the documentary “How to Start a Revolution” and the author of a forthcoming biography of Gene Sharp

Gene and I were in Moscow at the invitation of the Living Ring after the August attempted coup d’etat against Gorbachev in 1991. Boris Yeltsin and the others opposing the coup were hiding out in the parliament building, while 10,000 people (the Living Ring) surrounded it for three days and nights, nonviolently facing the tanks and soldiers who had order to attack. The Living Ring wanted training in how to nonviolently defeat future attempted coups against the government. Gene gave talks and we led workshops on nonviolent means to defeat further coup d’etats. It was a real privilege to work with Gene who selflessly shared the power of nonviolent struggle with people, groups and movements who wanted to use peaceful methods to challenge oppression and injustice.

David Hartsough is the author of “Waging Peace: Global Adventures of a Lifelong Activist” and the director of Peaceworkers

Gene Sharp made fundamental and original contributions to the theory and practice of nonviolence, a contribution of immense significance in an age of brutal violence under the spreading shadow of virtual extermination.

Noam Chomsky

I first met Gene 18 years ago while a graduate student at the Fletcher School. The simple but revolutionary concept that Gene described so clearly, that power is ultimately grounded in the consent and cooperation of ordinary people, was exciting for someone like myself studying internal wars and violent conflict. It didn’t take long before I had an appointment with Gene at the Albert Einstein Institution.

What struck me most in meeting Gene was the absolute seriousness with which he undertook his research and writing. Documenting the strategies and tactics of nonviolent struggle was not a theoretical exercise for Gene. He knew it had profound, real-life implications for those living under the boot of repression around the world. His interactions with activists from Burma, Palestine, Serbia and beyond demonstrably grounded his work.

The impact of Gene’s work on those on the front lines is most impressive. I’ve met many activists over the years, from Ukraine to Egypt to Zimbabwe, who’ve told me how Gene’s works, which have been translated into dozens of languages, have guided their freedom struggles. While working at ICNC and later in the U.S. State Department, I’d regularly send activists, civic leaders, and policymakers Gene’s writings, including those famous 198 Methods of Nonviolent Action. His From Dictatorship to Democracy is, for activists, a tool of liberation.

I am grateful to Gene for his groundbreaking and meticulous research, for laying the intellectual foundation for the field, and for providing peoples around world with effective tools to challenge injustices and build more inclusive, just, and peaceful societies. Rest in peace and power, Gene.

– Maria J. Stephan directs the Program on Nonviolent Action at the U.S. Institute of Peace and is the co-author of “Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict.”

Gene Sharp was a pioneer. He was our pioneer, who courageously put nonviolence on the map of a violent world, making possible the work that we do. His groundbreaking book, “Making Europe Unconquerable,” and his many writings on nonviolent tactics have been widely translated and widely read. It’s impossible to estimate how many people in our world today live in political freedom because of what Gene Sharp thought and did. How fitting that he passed on almost to the day that his great mentor, Mahatma Gandhi, fell to an assassin’s bullet.

Michael Nagler is the founder and president of The Metta Center for Nonviolence, as well as the author of “The Search for a Nonviolent Future”

I first met Gene in 1955 when he moved to London to work for the pacifist weekly paper Peace News.  I remember him coming to a party at the headquarters of the Peace Pledge Union organized by a group I belonged to, the Pacifist Youth Action Group, or PYAG.  Amongst other things, PYAG organized pickets outside prisons where conscientious objectors were being held, helped pack copies of Peace News for dispatch every Wednesday evening, and had a platform at Speakers Corner in Hyde Park on Sunday afternoons. Gene on the occasion of the party was dressed informally in casual shirt and jeans, spoke about the radical tradition of the early trade union movement in the United States and got us singing songs from that period and African-American spirituals.

He was a few years older than the majority in PYAG, had spent time in a U.S. penitentiary for draft refusal during the Korean War and had a deeper knowledge than most of us of the Gandhian tradition of nonviolent action.  While he is chiefly known for his scholarly work on Gandhi’s ideas and campaigns, and more generally on civil resistance and civilian-based defense, he should be remembered also for his early commitment to fostering grassroots campaigns against war.

In the late 1950s Gene worked closely with the Committee for Direct Action against Nuclear War  — the radical anti-nuclear campaign body that was subsequently renamed the Direct Action Committee against Nuclear War — which organized the first 50 mile walk from London to the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment at Aldermaston in 1958. It also adopted the now universally recognized “Peace Symbol,” designed by artist Gerald Holtom, which was featured on the leaflets for the march and on a briefing document written by Gene on maintaining nonviolent discipline. Later that year when the committee organized an illegal occupation and sit-down at a U.S. rocket base in Norfolk, Gene vigorously defended its decision against critics, who argued that the action was undemocratic.

Over time the emphasis of his work shifted more to analyzing and promoting nonviolent action as a strategic option rather than a moral imperative, and he somewhat distanced himself from the peace movement as such. He will be remembered not only as someone who advanced the understanding of a crucial instrument of social change, but took practical and effective action to promote it.

Michael Randle is the former chair of War Resisters International and has been involved in the peace movement as an activist and researcher since the 1950s.

Gene Sharp was vital, all these 90 years, in part because he was a true internationalist — one who never stopped exploring even when his body would not allow it. Decades ago, when we first met, discussing in part my work with his old friend, Pan African pacifist Bill Sutherland, his distinct erudite demeanor gave way to an almost boyish enthusiasm about the possibilities before us. Just a few years ago,  meeting in his tiny East Boston study, I introduced him to Burundian student activist Sixte Vigny Nimuraba — with that same passion as present as ever. All around the world, for many years to come, Gene will not be missed: because his ideas will live on.

Matt Meyer is national co-chair of the Fellowship of Reconciliation

My personal encounters with Gene were phone calls or drop in visits over the the years, during which he would always stop what he was doing to say hello, share his latest work, and answer my questions on the topic of the day. After the Arab Spring, I asked him why he thought Libya would choose civil war to overthrow their dictator, when Tunisia and Egypt had just demonstrated a less painful alternative. He explained how defecting military factions with lots of weapons at their disposal and support from NATO quickly rushed in to do the job.

What Gene gave us was a realistic way out of our insane belief that we must kill people to create a safe world. For me he created a bridge between the Sermon on the Mount and realpolitik. What a thrill it is now to see so many scholars and activists making that bridge wide and welcoming.

John Reuwer is adjunct professor of conflict resolution at Saint Michaels College, Vermont

Gene Sharp was such an unique person, and I feel so privileged I got to know him personally and can call him my friend. His work was certainly academically and scientifically very significant, but more importantly — for me and activists worldwide — it inspired thousands of people around the globe to better learn how to fight for freedom, human rights and democracy. I learned about his work in 2000, while leading the Serbian nonviolent movement OTPOR! (resistance). Since then, I have never stopped studying and applying his great work, which has left a significant stamp on people-power-driven movements worldwide. I am sure that his legacy will be even more important in the age that we are living in, the age when human rights and democracy seem to be under permanent threat. I feel that this great loss will serve as a boost and inspiration to carry on the torch of nonviolent activism with even stronger commitment.

A last salute to Gene, my friend and inspiration. Let’s make sure his legacy, ideas and marvelous insights into how people can empower themselves shines for generations to come. Great ideas, unlike great people never die!

Srdja Popovic is the founder of CANVAS and author of “Blueprint for Revolution”

I was first introduced to Gene Sharp’s writings as a left-wing student activist in the 1970s. Though I shared with my leftist comrades their strident opposition to U.S. imperialism and the importance of what was then called Third World solidarity, I was uncomfortable with their romanticization of armed revolution. These largely white middle-class college students would never know the horrors of counter-insurgency warfare inflicted against populations who resisted their oppression through armed struggle.

Their response was that, given how structural violence (deaths from malnutrition, preventable diseases, etc.) was responsible for ten times the deaths of behavioral violence, supporting an armed revolution that would end the structural violence was actually was thereby morally defensible. Even putting aside the propensity for successful armed revolutions to turn into autocratic governments that also fail to successfully address structural violence, I was not convinced that it was an either/or situation. There had to other ways than armed revolution to topple autocracies. Through his study of centuries of nonviolent struggle, Gene made a convincing case on utilitarian grounds that nonviolent struggle was a better means of resistance.

Most of my fellow student radicals remained unconvinced, in large part because there were few concrete examples at that time of largely nonviolent movements bringing down authoritarian regimes. In the 40 years since, however, over 50 autocratic governments have been toppled through unarmed civil resistance movements, many of which were influenced by Sharp’s writings.

Stephen Zunes is a Professor of Politics and International Studies at the University of San Francisco

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Gene Sharp — the lonely scholar who became a nonviolent warrior

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by George Lakey

(Twitter / @GeneSharpAEI)

Once again I rang the bell at the brick row house in East Boston where Gene Sharp lived. When he opened the door I said proudly, “Today I drove here instead of taking the T.”

“You drove?” he said in mock horror. “Man, are you trying to get yourself killed? Haven’t you heard about Boston drivers? They show no mercy, especially toward Philadelphians!”

That was the Gene Sharp I knew, always loving to find a joke in the moment. So, I was sad to hear the news that he passed away on Sunday at the age of 90.

When I had him speak at Swarthmore College he put on his distinguished scholar persona, adding the English accent he’d learned while studying at Oxford. When one of my students asked a particularly penetrating question, Gene, at the time associated with Harvard, peered over his glasses and said, “Hmm, it appears to be true: Swarthmore students really are brighter than Harvard students.”

Even though he charmed my students, he also relished the role of contrarian. Not easy, if your life mission is to bring into the mainstream an area of study previously on the intellectual margin.

I was 21 years old when I met him. I was studying sociology at the University of Oslo. One of my teachers there who knew of my interest in the peace movement said that I might like to meet someone at the university who was researching Norwegian nonviolent resistance to the German Nazi occupation in World War II.

I dropped by his office and found a 30-year-old in jeans and sneakers with a quick smile. We both welcomed the chance to speak English, although his Norwegian was much better than mine. My eyes widened when he told me he was not only digging into stories of Norwegian resistance, but was going to conferences where he interviewed Africans in anti-colonial struggles who told him of nonviolent tactics being used there, sometimes alongside armed struggle.

At first I couldn’t make sense of it. Gene had been to prison as a conscientious objector and then became secretary to A.J. Muste, who Time magazine called “America’s number one pacifist.” I’d become a pacifist only recently after a fierce internal struggle, given my family’s pro-military beliefs. To me, the choice between violence and nonviolence was a choice of moral conviction. What happens to moral choice when we research violent and nonviolent methods as if they are alternative means to an end?

In dialogue with Gene over time I realized he was not closing the door on ethics. Instead, he saw much more promise through opening the door of practical advantages of nonviolent struggle. He and I wanted the same thing: maximum attraction to nonviolent struggle to win justice.

Gene also told me stories of his own disappointment, when pacifist intellectuals he knew who could have developed pragmatic strategies for nonviolent struggle chose not to, falling back on their ethical choice as their default. As an eager-beaver student, already set on getting a master’s in sociology, I sympathized with Gene’s eagerness to take on the tough questions on their own terms rather than rely on a default answer. From there, it wasn’t hard for Gene to convince me that I should write my own thesis on nonviolent struggle.

We stayed in touch after I returned to the United States, and — with his encouragement — I persuaded the University of Pennsylvania’s sociology department to allow me to write that thesis. In it, I proposed that there is not just one way that nonviolent campaigners win, when they do, but instead there are three different mechanisms through which success can come. Gene then adopted the mechanisms for his own work.

The lonely researcher

It’s difficult to understand in 2018 — when so many people around the world are researching and writing with sophistication about nonviolent struggle — how lonely Gene’s path was in the early years. When I met him in 1959, Gene was the only person in the world doing full-time research in nonviolent struggle.

True, peace and conflict research was happening at the same time, with a scholarly journal around Kenneth and Elise Boulding, based at the University of Michigan. In Oslo, I helped Johan Galtung on his first peace research project. The emerging field’s focus was on conflict resolution. Gene’s, however, was on conflict-waging.

I saw this emphasis coming from Gene’s being a warrior. His passion was to map a territory where fighters could take on their biggest opponents and win, nonviolently. Winning that way, he believed, could make a big difference. Whatever the win/win conflict resolution people might offer, Gene believed there are some struggles where the result needs to be a loss for one side: slaveholders needed to lose their slaves; fascists needed to lose their secret police.

His disposition to be a nonviolent warrior at a time when so many non-warriors were looking for conflict resolution, and warriors looking for a way to apply violence, made him a lonely scholar. To my eyes his perseverance made him a hero.

A technology with multiple applications

Thanks to Gene, we can think of nonviolent action as a social invention that has multiple applications. Nonviolent change, from neighborhood to international levels, is probably best known. Most people also understand Nonviolent defense struggles, which includes defending the environment, indigenous rights and other human rights. Less well known is defense of communities against occupation and annexation. Then there are the applications still needing further development, such as defending against terrorist threat — something we made some progress on at Swarthmore. Finally, there are the applications waiting to be developed. Gene told me he wished people would tackle the research needed to begin to erect nonviolent defense against genocide.

One application that Gene spent years tackling proved to be particularly controversial. In 1964, Gene invited me to present a paper at the first international conference on civilian-based defense, or CBD, at Oxford University. The fear of nuclear war had triggered a growth of disarmament movements in multiple countries, but they had the all-too-familiar problem: no real alternative to military defense.

If you’re looking to defend your people from attack and occupation by a hostile power, consider the advantages of building a nonviolent defense system, Gene suggested. We learned at the conference from one of the foremost military strategists of the day, Sir B. H. Liddell Hart, that he had already advised exactly that to the Danish government shortly after World War II.

In Europe, seeing the idea of CBD taken seriously alarmed a number of radicals. Anarchists were joined by others who had a dim view of governmental behavior and couldn’t imagine how there could be liberating outcomes for nonviolence once the state got hold of it.

While I joined the anarchists in being wary of the state, Gene won me over with a set of arguments including his analysis of the dynamic impact of the means of conflict that we use. Choosing military defense, he said, has a centralizing impact and heightens authoritarian relations. Nonviolent defense is the opposite. The work so far done on CBD points to the most promising nonviolent defense strategies having a decentralizing impact, empowering the grassroots of society.

If he’s right, then it makes sense for decentralists to support further development of CBD for countries — like the Nordic ones — that might consider trans-arming, the term we invented to get around the non-starter of disarmament. In my view, for countries like the United States, where the 1 percent rule and have a vested interest in opposing trans-armament, CBD might usefully be considered for inclusion in our vision — to be implemented when we push the 1 percent aside and make the major changes needed for a living revolution.

Seeing events with new eyes

Some years ago, high schoolers in Philadelphia banded together to form a city-wide schools reform movement, the Philadelphia Student Union. To inaugurate training they invited me in to lead workshops. One day I handed out newspapers I’d collected from the previous three weeks and asked them to look through them to find out what kinds of nonviolent action they found being used. I first asked them what they considered “nonviolent action” to be, weaving parts together into what amounted to Gene Sharp’s classical definition.

They dove into the newspapers and amazed themselves with the large number of tactics they found reported on at the local, national and international levels.

A Swarthmore College international student came into the nonviolent research seminar I was leading and told me she wanted to research cases but was regretful that her own country had no nonviolent experience of its own. I smiled and said, “We’ll see.” In a matter of weeks she was bringing cases to the seminar from her own country. By giving her new eyes to see with, Gene had given her back her own country’s history.

To me this is Gene’s most important single contribution. He defined nonviolent struggle in behavioral terms, so clearly that people are empowered. They can see what’s happening now and recover their legacy as well.

Gene’s own eyes sparkled with pleasure a few years back when my student Max Rennebohm and I showed him the Global Nonviolent Action Database, which, at the time, comprised over 500 cases compiled by Swarthmore students. Now there are over 1,100 cases, spanning nearly every country — including the doubting international student’s home country — giving inspiration and strategic hints to all who access it. The database, based on Gene’s conception of the field, is one of his living memorials. But I’ll miss him all the same.

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Impostor Syndrome

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It's actually worst in people who study the Dunning–Kruger effect. We tried to organize a conference on it, but the only people who would agree to give the keynote were random undergrads.
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4 days ago
It's actually worst in people who study the Dunning–Kruger effect. We tried to organize a conference on it, but the only people who would agree to give the keynote were random undergrads.
5 days ago

After Section 702 Reauthorization


For over a decade, civil libertarians have been fighting government mass surveillance of innocent Americans over the Internet. We've just lost an important battle. On January 18, President Trump signed the renewal of Section 702, domestic mass surveillance became effectively a permanent part of US law.

Section 702 was initially passed in 2008, as an amendment to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978. As the title of that law says, it was billed as a way for the NSA to spy on non-Americans located outside the United States. It was supposed to be an efficiency and cost-saving measure: the NSA was already permitted to tap communications cables located outside the country, and it was already permitted to tap communications cables from one foreign country to another that passed through the United States. Section 702 allowed it to tap those cables from inside the United States, where it was easier. It also allowed the NSA to request surveillance data directly from Internet companies under a program called PRISM.

The problem is that this authority also gave the NSA the ability to collect foreign communications and data in a way that inherently and intentionally also swept up Americans' communications as well, without a warrant. Other law enforcement agencies are allowed to ask the NSA to search those communications, give their contents to the FBI and other agencies and then lie about their origins in court.

In 1978, after Watergate had revealed the Nixon administration's abuses of power, we erected a wall between intelligence and law enforcement that prevented precisely this kind of sharing of surveillance data under any authority less restrictive than the Fourth Amendment. Weakening that wall is incredibly dangerous, and the NSA should never have been given this authority in the first place.

Arguably, it never was. The NSA had been doing this type of surveillance illegally for years, something that was first made public in 2006. Section 702 was secretly used as a way to paper over that illegal collection, but nothing in the text of the later amendment gives the NSA this authority. We didn't know that the NSA was using this law as the statutory basis for this surveillance until Edward Snowden showed us in 2013.

Civil libertarians have been battling this law in both Congress and the courts ever since it was proposed, and the NSA's domestic surveillance activities even longer. What this most recent vote tells me is that we've lost that fight.

Section 702 was passed under George W. Bush in 2008, reauthorized under Barack Obama in 2012, and now reauthorized again under Trump. In all three cases, congressional support was bipartisan. It has survived multiple lawsuits by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the ACLU, and others. It has survived the revelations by Snowden that it was being used far more extensively than Congress or the public believed, and numerous public reports of violations of the law. It has even survived Trump's belief that he was being personally spied on by the intelligence community, as well as any congressional fears that Trump could abuse the authority in the coming years. And though this extension lasts only six years, it's inconceivable to me that it will ever be repealed at this point.

So what do we do? If we can't fight this particular statutory authority, where's the new front on surveillance? There are, it turns out, reasonable modifications that target surveillance more generally, and not in terms of any particular statutory authority. We need to look at US surveillance law more generally.

First, we need to strengthen the minimization procedures to limit incidental collection. Since the Internet was developed, all the world's communications travel around in a single global network. It's impossible to collect only foreign communications, because they're invariably mixed in with domestic communications. This is called "incidental" collection, but that's a misleading name. It's collected knowingly, and searched regularly. The intelligence community needs much stronger restrictions on which American communications channels it can access without a court order, and rules that require they delete the data if they inadvertently collect it. More importantly, "collection" is defined as the point the NSA takes a copy of the communications, and not later when they search their databases.

Second, we need to limit how other law enforcement agencies can use incidentally collected information. Today, those agencies can query a database of incidental collection on Americans. The NSA can legally pass information to those other agencies. This has to stop. Data collected by the NSA under its foreign surveillance authority should not be used as a vehicle for domestic surveillance.

The most recent reauthorization modified this lightly, forcing the FBI to obtain a court order when querying the 702 data for a criminal investigation. There are still exceptions and loopholes, though.

Third, we need to end what's called "parallel construction." Today, when a law enforcement agency uses evidence found in this NSA database to arrest someone, it doesn't have to disclose that fact in court. It can reconstruct the evidence in some other manner once it knows about it, and then pretend it learned of it that way. This right to lie to the judge and the defense is corrosive to liberty, and it must end.

Pressure to reform the NSA will probably first come from Europe. Already, European Union courts have pointed to warrantless NSA surveillance as a reason to keep Europeans' data out of US hands. Right now, there is a fragile agreement between the EU and the United States ­-- called "Privacy Shield" -- ­that requires Americans to maintain certain safeguards for international data flows. NSA surveillance goes against that, and it's only a matter of time before EU courts start ruling this way. That'll have significant effects on both government and corporate surveillance of Europeans and, by extension, the entire world.

Further pressure will come from the increased surveillance coming from the Internet of Things. When your home, car, and body are awash in sensors, privacy from both governments and corporations will become increasingly important. Sooner or later, society will reach a tipping point where it's all too much. When that happens, we're going to see significant pushback against surveillance of all kinds. That's when we'll get new laws that revise all government authorities in this area: a clean sweep for a new world, one with new norms and new fears.

It's possible that a federal court will rule on Section 702. Although there have been many lawsuits challenging the legality of what the NSA is doing and the constitutionality of the 702 program, no court has ever ruled on those questions. The Bush and Obama administrations successfully argued that defendants don't have legal standing to sue. That is, they have no right to sue because they don't know they're being targeted. If any of the lawsuits can get past that, things might change dramatically.

Meanwhile, much of this is the responsibility of the tech sector. This problem exists primarily because Internet companies collect and retain so much personal data and allow it to be sent across the network with minimal security. Since the government has abdicated its responsibility to protect our privacy and security, these companies need to step up: Minimize data collection. Don't save data longer than absolutely necessary. Encrypt what has to be saved. Well-designed Internet services will safeguard users, regardless of government surveillance authority.

For the rest of us concerned about this, it's important not to give up hope. Everything we do to keep the issue in the public eye ­-- and not just when the authority comes up for reauthorization again in 2024 -- hastens the day when we will reaffirm our rights to privacy in the digital age.

This essay previously appeared in the Washington Post.

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In Order to Keep Our Editorial Page Completely Balanced, We Are Hiring More Dipshits


Here at the New York Times, we believe that all sides of the story should be tolerated and explored, from white supremacists being actually kinda cool if you think about it to people who believe that saying college campuses should be less PC is somehow an interesting use of 1,000 words. That’s why we’re expanding our editorial staff to include more dipshits. Because everyone, no matter how intellectually lazy their conservatism, deserves a column in our newspaper.

By the end of the year, we aim to have 200% more dipshits writing columns for us. As long as you are a Ben Shapiro knockoff who can string together the words ‘the intolerant left’ and occasionally criticize Trump, you have a home here on our opinion pages. Because this is what conservatism is now, and we have to respect that.

Why do we hire dipshits? It’s simple. After the 2016 election, we got yelled at a lot by right-wingers. How could you report such negative stories about President Trump by printing the words he says? Why don’t 100% of your stories talk about Hillary Clinton’s emails, rather than just the ones on the front page? They had a point. So, despite the fact that throughout the last year the right has decided they hate everything from Keurig to the NFL, we have decided to do the journalistically correct thing and capitulate entirely.

So today we make a promise. A promise to every moron that was a little too intelligent to for the Wall Street Journal, to every idiot that will go write for the Federalist if they don’t get hired by us. To you, we say welcome.

We believe that the truth lies in the middle. The exact mathematical middle. This holds true no matter how far right “the right” actually is. You know all those things that John McCain said in 2008? Sorry, liberals. That’s left-wing now.

We want to change the perception of journalists away from the elitist East Coast Democrat of yesteryear to the rabid logical fallacy machine of tomorrow. And at the New York Times, that dream isn’t too far in the future.

If you are a dipshit interested in penning thin critiques of the #MeToo movement based on supposedly intellectually rigorous standards of guilt, while also publishing drivel about how Democrats should be nicer to you on Twitter, we invite you to apply.

To be considered for the job, please send in your ten best “Conservative slam dunk tweets” in which you absolutely OWN a liberal by claiming that the phrase “You shouldn’t say that” is the same as “Let’s burn books because we hate freedom of expression.”

Congratulations! You’re already hired.

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